Tiny, perfect things

There is a hill on the ranch that is completely covered in tiger lilies. My little sister went on a ride with Dad and they discovered them, a scattering of bright orange petals opening up to the bright blue sky.

It has been a dry year here, with our spring rain coming to us late, and so our wildflower crop is just now appearing. And this news about the tiger lilies may not seem so thrilling to some, but it’s exciting for us.

Because the flower is so perfect, and so exotic looking, and they don’t always come up every year. So when they do, we feel like we have access to our own personal florist, Mother Nature.

I don’t know if everyone has a favorite flower, but the tiger lily is mine. I carried them at my wedding, a bouquet of orange walking with me down a grassy, makeshift aisle in a cow pasture. We had to mow and build benches and move cow pies to make it presentable for guests, but we didn’t get rid of all of the cactus. My little sister found this out as she was making her trek down the aisle in front of me. I didn’t know if she was crying because of the cactus in her leg, or if she was so happy for us. I think a little of both.

Anyway, that’s what happens when you live in a wild place. No matter how you try to tame it, the flies and the thorns, the barn swallows and the raccoons, they don’t care about your fancy new deck furniture that you got for the family reunion — they will show up to eat the cat food and then poop on it.

And so then you sort of become wild, too. I know because I caught myself standing outside in my underwear one morning yelling at the birds to find a new place to make their messy clay nests. Not here, swallows. Not on the side of my house! And my husband? Well, he likes to scare raccoons at midnight… also in his underwear.

Anyway, I guess that’s why the wildflowers seem so special out here. For so much of the year we’re battling the elements, praying for rain, shoveling snow, bundling up, tracking mud in the house, pulling burs out of horses’ manes, cutting down weeds and clearing and cleaning and building and doctoring. The wildflowers, especially the tiger lily, seem like a reminder that there is perfection in this world, in the smallest things. Tiny, pretty miracles surviving despite and because of the hot sun and clay dirt.

I took my girls to that tiger lily hill the other day to check out this year’s crop. On the way they were singing Bible school songs they just learned, doing the actions and repeating the lines over and not quite right the way little kids do in the cutest way.

They had never seen a tiger lily before, and so it was a fun and easy Easter egg hunt, each girl grabbing up more than a handful of the flowers and thrilled with it all. With the familiar songs they were humming, and their sun-flushed cheeks and mosquito-bit arms, I couldn’t help but think: Now isn’t this the quintessential ranch summer?

I wonder what they will remember about being a little kid out in these hills. Do they feel as wild and free as I used to feel out here, enamored with the mystery of this place and how it can change so magically by the hour, the sun sinking down, turning the tips of the trees and grass and my daughters’ hair golden?

I hope so. I hope they feel as wild and beautiful and as loved as those lilies, because they are to me. My own little tiger lilies on the hilltop, growing before my eyes.

My favorite little flowers reminding us that there are perfect things in this world.

North Dakota, we’ve been claimed

Somehow we’ve been claimed
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As a woman whose heart has been planted solid here in the buttes and prairies of North Dakota, but whose feet and mind have wandered with music and education and the winding road for years, I have often found myself on the other end of the question: Why here?

Before I made the decision to stay here for good, before I became a mother working and raising those children in the middle of my 30s, trying desperately to find a way to do the right thing for the legacy of this ranch, I struggled to find an answer. I used to think I had to be so profound. I used to think I had to convince them…

Because asking me why North Dakota, why the prairies, why Middle America, is like asking what it means to you to hold your last name, or wear your grandmother’s ring, or to lay down next to the man you love every night. How do you answer it?

Who are these people who hold the scent of the dirt, the push of the wind, the endless winters, the wheat fields, the small town in such regard? Who has lived here for years, or arrived fresh and unconvinced? Who comes home again?

We are rural route roads, beat-up mailboxes and dusty school bus seats. We are rides in the combine, summer sausage sandwiches, a thermos of coffee washed down with warm lemonade and faces streaked with dirt after a hot August day in the field. Two miles to a gravel road on the edge of town and we are freedom, our father’s pickup, 12 years old behind the steering wheel.

We are first loves and last loves and forever loves found on those back roads at night, on front porches, in the back seats of cars and under blankets shared in the stands at football games.

We are the stars that light up the endless sky at night, family farms, four generations of the same recipe on Christmas Eve. The barnyard light.

We are white wood prairie churches, our mother’s voice quietly singing the hymns, Jell-O with suspended vegetables and mayonnaise casseroles waiting for us in the basement when the service is through.

We are wet clay caked to cowboy boots, the black soil of the valley, the only stoplight in town.

High heels and business suits, running shoes and hoping things will stay the same and knowing, working, voting, crying out for change.

We’re number crunchers, songs that must be sung, books that must be written. Snake-bitten.

We scream for sun and pray for rain and push the river from our doors. We’ve been here before.

Chokecherry jam, mosquito bites, country fairs, one station on the radio, too young for our first beer, FFA and 4-H steers. Too young to leave here.

We are race car tracks and endless power lines, hockey rinks and barbed wire fences. Drilling rigs and endless fields of wheat. September heat.

We are bicycle tires on quiet streets, fireworks in May, Popsicles and swimming pools and a stop at the Tastee Freez, please. The new kid in town. The doctor who knows you and your children too. Rodeos and American Legion, football heroes, lead singers, the Ferris wheel in town for the weekend. The underdog.

Powwows, three-legged races, familiar faces, dances in the street.

Throwing rocks in the creek.

We’re “Pete’s kid,” and “Your mother wants you home right away!”

We are pushed to go and pulled to stay; we are leaving this place as soon as we’re grown.

And we are the sky we can’t explain, unpredictable, colorful and full of rage and gentle hope that it’s all going to be OK.

We are someday.

We’re the wind, relentless. The snow, endless. Sharp and hard, steadfast and certain like the winter and the change in weather.

We are the dirt under our nails, tangled hair, the cattails and bluebells and big white-tailed deer. We are new Main Street signs, and small high school hallways, and hope, even though…

We are all of these things that make up a home, but home is not ours to take. Somehow, we’ve been claimed.

Take the picture

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I’m trying to get my photo situation under control. Or, I should say, I’ve been thinking about getting my photo situation under control.

Since I moved back to the ranch seven years ago, that’s pretty much been the mission of my life, to take photos of it all. I would tout my big camera along with me everywhere, capturing the way the sun set on the petals of a wildflower, the soak of the rain, the sparkle of a snow bank, the lines on my husband’s face.

I was obsessed. I created thousands of images and posted them here. I loaded up my computer, my phone, my camera cards. I did my best at organizing them at least by year, but even with my best effort, it became sort of a kazillion GB mess.

Now that I’ve added a child to the mix of things, it’s gotten downright ridiculous. I made an 80 page photo book just of the first two months of her life with every intention of doing another one at least by her first birthday, suddenly so aware and sort of frantic about the importance of not only taking the photo, but printing it as well.

And rightly so. About the time that my baby was born was the time that every technology in my universe seemed to fail me. My computer crashed and on its way to its death, it drug along the external drive where I had backed up everything. And because we had terrible internet at the time, the great mysterious services like the Cloud were useless to me.

Needless to say, there was a lot of cussing and despair involved in my attempt to recover my precious memories. And I wound up saving my computer in a fragmented form, thanks to a techie band mate, but I couldn’t save the backup. And the backup was what I really needed…

Waahhhhhhh…..

I was determined to be better about all these damn photographs I was going to be taking in this next phase of my life. I was going to keep on top of it. Make prints. Make books. Make use of them so that when Edie’s my age she doesn’t have to figure out how to recuperate ancient laptops to retrieve her memories the way we do with old home movies and slides.

I was going to put her memories in books I tell you! I was going to do better than my mother, who has our memories in piles in a trunk in her living room and the overflow in a drawer in the buffet and another overflow in another drawer in the kitchen.

But I’m not convinced people can change. And here I am, a year and a half later with one photo album and another thousand photos of my baby in all phases of getting there on my computer and an overwhelming feeling that our memories have the potential to be lost forever if I don’t get on the ball, especially cause here I am pregnant again, and Oh My GAWD, I’m halfway through this baby-growing business and I haven’t even taken a photo of my belly!!!

I took like seventy thousand photos of my growing belly with Edie!! This kid’s not even born yet and I have some explaining to do!!

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So anyway, I have a goal. Before this baby is born, I’m going to catch up on the album thing. It’s not that hard. I just have to do it.

In the meantime, I have signed up for a cool service called Chatbooks, where they automatically send you little square books featuring photos off of my Instagram feed. So if anything, in the end, I’ll have a nice little collection of our day to day life, because I put the responsibility in someone else’s hands.

So this was on my mind when I was putting together September’s issue of Prairie Parent. Because soon it will be school picture time, and soon moms and dads of seniors will be digging through the archives of their child’s life, pulling out the favorites, and putting them in books and on poster boards for relatives and friends to reminisce over.

Time goes too fast. I always thought it. I think it more every day. Photographs and videos are our only visual connection to a past we can’t hold on to. So I’ve decided not to apologize about it, and just keep snapping. And while I regret a few photos taken of me (Ahem…Little Sister!!!) I don’t think I’ll ever regret one taken of my growing and changing family…

Read more about “Taking the Picture” in my From the Editor column in this Month’s Prairie Parent. And check out the full issue of the magazine online at www.prairieparent.com

Counting Photos, Collecting Memories

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A heavy dose of escape…

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Yesterday afternoon, when Husband came home from work I escaped.

Yeah. I said it. Escaped. That’s the right word.  Some days around here are easier than others, and I think this baby is getting more teeth God help me, so I left her, and the man who helped make her, to it.

And I headed to the badlands.

Because I hadn’t been there in a while. Because  I was feeling overwhelmed in this house that’s never going to be baby proof enough. Because being a mom is hard sometimes.

Being a work from home mom to a baby who just learned to crawl is nearly impossible.

Because I needed some inspiration. A good breath. A minute.

Because it was a beautiful night and I didn’t want to miss out on it.

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The badlands are right in our backyard and the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is about a 45 mile drive from the ranch, but if I were a bird it wouldn’t take me nearly as long to fly there along the river.

I wished I was a bird yesterday evening as I drove through the park slowly with the windows open watching the rain clouds build up on the horizon, wondering how long it might pour on me and this landscape that has nothing to do but soak up the sky.

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Then I was feeling sort of bummed about it, about the rain. Like, finally I get out here and I won’t get the light bouncing off the buttes. I won’t get a sunset. I won’t get the great shadows the sun creates in the canyons. I won’t get to see it in all its late summer glory.

I won’t get what I want out of this little trip.

And I was right. I didn’t get what I wanted.

I got more.

Because just before the sky let loose a smattering of rain on a girl standing in the long grass, hair whipping across my face, a rainbow appeared like they tend to do out of nowhere and it stayed long enough for me get to know it a bit.

And to shake the boulder that unexplainably had been sitting heavy on my shoulders for the last few days.

img_3193img_3200img_3264img_3282img_3296img_3380img_3346img_3364img_3324img_3328Sometimes you don’t know what you need. And that’s ok.

But sometimes you do and you don’t take it. And that’s not ok.

I was reminded of that last night. Because I almost didn’t take the drive out there. I felt a little guilty about it. Like I should stay home and cook supper. Like it was going to be too late and the house was a mess. Like I had lots of work I could get done after the baby went down for the night. Like I was so tired.

But I went. I went because I wanted to. I went because it wasn’t asking much.

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Taking moments to exist in this wild space has always my best therapy. My best drug. And I got a heavy dose last night.

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And I’ve learned a heavy dose of escape makes the return so much sweeter…

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Wild berries, worms and cuss words…

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Last night I went on a walk to close some gates in our home pasture and check a couple juneberry patches.

Juneberries are a special treat around here. Like wild mini-blueberries, if they show up, they show up around this time to much fan fare for those of us who know people who make pies.

Juneberries make the best pies in the world.

Probably because getting to them before the frost kills them or the birds eat them up is so rare, and the entire task of picking enough of the little purple berries sends you to the most mosquito and tick infested, hot, thorny, itchiest places in the free world, so finally making and tasting a Juneberry pie is like completing some prairie, culinary, ironman marathon.

Only better and more gratifying, because, well, pie.

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Anyway, my little stroll before sunset was only mildly successful. The gates on this place were made to be shut only by Thor himself. Or the Hulk. Or some hybrid of a bear-man. By the time I grunted and groaned, used my entire body weight trying to push the two posts together to maybe, possibly, for the love of Dolly Parton, stretch the three wires tight enough to get the little wire loop over the top of the scrawny post, I was sweating, cussing, bleeding and wondering how I missed the yeti that we apparently hired to fix the gates on this place.

I called Husband on my cell phone (who was inside the house with the baby, like twenty yards away) and told him there’s no way in hell I’m ever getting that damn gate shut and that shutting the damn gates was his job from now on who the hell do you think I am what the hell is this all about who in their right mind makes gates that tight good gawd sweet mercy Martha Stewart.

And, if you’re wondering, the gate on the other side of that pasture went about the same way…

Anyway, on my way I did in fact locate a big ‘ol juneberry patch. But the best berries, of course, were hanging out about fifteen feet above my head at the very tops of the bushes. And to get to them I had to wade through thorny bushes up to my armpits. But some of those thorny bushes had raspberries growing on them, so that was a win.

I proceeded to eat every ripe red berry I could find.

Even the one with the worm on it…which I discovered after I put it in my mouth and crunched.

So that was a loss.

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Yes, the raspberries, worms and all, were within my reach. The juneberries, not so much. But tonight I’m going to use my best convincing skills to see if Husband might want to come with me to back our old pickup up to that bush, stand in the box, brave the mosquitos and pick us some berries.

Because, well…pie.

Anyway, when I got home I discovered that apparently wading up to my armpits in thorny brush to pick raspberries was not only a good way to accidentally eat a worm, but, even better, it’s a great way to acquire 500 wood ticks.

I came home and picked off a good fifteen or so. Stripped down to my undies, checked myself out in the mirror, sat down on the chair and proceeded to pick off at least five more.

When I crawled into bed I wondered out loud to Husband what time of night I would wake up to a tick crawling across my face. He made a guess. I made a guess.

But we were both wrong.

At about 12:30 or so, just as I had drifted into a really nice slumber, I was indeed awoken by a tick…but it wasn’t crawling across my face. No.

It was crawling toward my butt crack.

Thank good gawd sweet mercy Martha Stewart, I cut him off at the pass…

Ugh, all I wanted to do was close some freakin’ gates…

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Whirlwind.

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A storm built up over us last night just as I was settling in to bed. The radar screamed red and flashed tornado warnings above our town while we sat in the house at the ranch, pressing our noses against the windows to watch the dark clouds skim past us, leaving nothing but some wind that bent the trees down pretty good, a little hail that poked some holes in my petunias and a headache from all my worrying.

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It seemed the town, despite the tornado warning, fared ok. A few backyard trampolines were displaced, cars were dented, lawn chairs rearranged and what not, but that’s small potatoes compared to what could have been. After the tornado that ripped through an RV park in my hometown a few summers back, I think people are a little punchy about the summer weather.

And I have to admit so am I. I have seen too many close calls in my life.

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Tonight though.

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Tonight was the definition of the calm after the storm. 60 degrees and still, the smell of cattle hanging in the air. The wildflowers poking up out of the cool ground. The sun setting golden on the grass, kissing it just the way I like.

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I was feeling a little emotionally drained and frazzled after a long couple days of trying to comfort a baby who just wants to be happy, but dammit, she’s sprouted five teeth in a matter of a couple weeks. So I’ve been coping by snuggles and distracting her with walks outside to watch the dogs, and this morning, to chase a cow who had somehow mysteriously got into the yard. Edie thought it was funny how the old bag made a point of pooping during her entire walk to the exit, leaving a smelly string of lawn ornaments for me to pick up.

I know what her chore will be some day.

And if holding a baby on your hip while chasing a cow out of the yard isn’t multi-tasking enough, I’ve also found myself setting up an office in my car to get some work done, taking advantage of the fact that the baby fell asleep during the three minute drive to the other place to feed the calf.

This afternoon I was busted twice working in my car by my brother-in-law. Once behind my mom’s shop after a meeting in town and once on the hill before home. Because the baby’s gonna wake up once I open that door…and well, she’s got teeth to sprout and I’ve got shit to do.

But that reasoning is sort of hard to explain to a man who maybe thinks I’m a little kooky already…

Anyway, the time was right to take a walk. To see a little of my world from out behind the computer screen and bald baby head (bless her heart.)

This is my favorite time of year and it was my favorite time of day and it’s all so fleeting isn’t it?

That’s what makes it so especially beautiful I think…

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I feel like making time to really see it is as important to me as breathing these days.

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I think the same can be said with this baby and me.

Those stormy patches are rough, but oh so momentary too.

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And the rest of it is a whirlwind of pretty damn special.

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A Spring Dinosaur Hunt

As the weather’s warmed up a bit, we finally get to spend some time outside. And it seems I was given the right baby because Edie loves it as much as I do.

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And as much as the dogs it seems. Every time I put her in the carrier, eyes facing the world in front of her, she calms. She looks. She kicks her legs. She laughs at the dogs running in front of her. She looks up at the sky and smiles.

I wish it were spring and 70 here forever, and maybe that she would stay little, so that I could take her out like this every day.

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A few weeks back on a pretty nice day (yeah, these photos are from a few weeks back…I’m not as quick on the updates as I used to be) Little Man came over to visit and we all went out on a walk, Little Man, Little Sister, Pops, Edie and I.

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Little Man wore Husband’s cap to keep the sun from his eyes and Little Sister wore Edie because when she’s here the two are stuck together like glue.

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Edie wore her hat and and sunglasses and other hat and snowsuit of course. Because it was  warm but not that warm. And windy. And sunny. A typical North Dakota spring day and a girl’s gotta dress the part.

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Pops grabbed a walking stick.

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I grabbed a camera and we were off on a hike up the hill and past the dam and through the trees.
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A hike that soon turned into an imaginary dinosaur hunt where we all got assignments and duties from the Pre-schooler.

Pops was the hunter, Little Man was the scientist, I was the photographer and Little Sister and Edie needed to be on the lookout.

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Maybe when Little Man grows up he’ll be an actual scientist, but he’d also make a pretty good movie director.

And while we were hunting for bones we looked for spring.

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The weeks that passed since taking this walk and taking these pictures has greened things up considerably. Edie has even gotten to go on a walk without her second hat and snowsuit, so summer’s just around the corner.

And I have so many things to say about spring out here. You know me.  I want to tell you how I got back in the saddle for the first time since finding out I was pregnant over a year ago and it was the best therapy in the world. And how I saw and heard a rattlesnake outside our fence the other day while I was on a walk and it scared the shit out of me. And then how we watched two elk come down to water in the dam outside our house and no matter how many times we see them it’s still pretty magical.

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And how the blossoms smell and how, when I call Gus back, Dolly crouches down beside me and waits to tackle him when he arrives. Every. Singe. Time. And it’s hilarious and Gus deserves all the pestering he’s receiving.

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I want to tell you how I love this little boy, who just graduated from Pre-school and is on to Kindergarten in the fall, who wants to be a cop and a scientist and a cowboy and everything, he can’t pick just one.

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And there’s more I have to say, you know there is, but the baby is waking in her crib an it’s time for our morning snuggle. So I’ll just leave you with this…

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And this.

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Happy Thursday and Happy Spring. May you find time to get out and enjoy it with your nephew and Little Sister and your Pops and your baby and your dogs…or whoever you love who you can convince to go dinosaur hunting with you…

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Outside. Inside.

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January’s a good month to have an excuse to stay inside with a baby.

All the snuggling, singing and miles put on pacing and bouncing the burps out in front of the fireplace is as good of an activity as any when the thermometer registers well below zero.

And while I love it, I am also restless. Having spent every other winter of my life able to bundle up and hit the trail or the road on a whim sometimes sends me pressing my nose up against the window.

The light is already starting to linger longer, and this baby is already starting to hold her head up and make little noises, but I find myself daydreaming about smushing her leg rolls into a little swimming suit and hitting the beaches of the big lake this summer.

And that’s a rough daydream, because I already think she’s growing up too fast.

So in an attempt to beat cabin fever and to force myself to stay in the moment, last weekend Husband held down the fort and the pacifier and I made a plan to trek out and about around the barnyard, ignoring the fact that it was literally -20 with the windchill or something like that.

I would just stay in the low parts of the place, avoid the wind and try to squeeze my fat ass into my long underwear, under sweat pants, under snow pants I could barely button up.

I just needed to take a tally of all of the frost, put a flush in my cheeks and sweat a bit.

Because while I have a new role now as a mom, there are things I know about myself that help keep me balanced.

I need to go outside. It’s imperative for me to remain the best version of myself.

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So I did.

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And I froze my face off.

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And came in after only about fifteen minutes.

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Happy to know that all was as it should be in January.

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Frosty and freezing…

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Windy and white…

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And pretty in a middle-of-winter sort of way.

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And it felt good to be frozen, only to warm up…

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with a warm fire and the best stuff waiting for me inside.

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The wait (to love you forever…)

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I’m a big ‘ol ticking time bomb. Any day this baby could make his or her arrival and the wait will be over.

We’re in the in-between phase. The hurry up and wait. The preparing to prepare.

I never thought I’d look like this.

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I never thought I’d feel the kicks or the hiccups inside my belly or the panic that I HAVE to get the microwave clean or I might spontaneously combust.

Never thought the arches of my feet would ache like this.

Never thought I would understand the way a body wakes you up every two hours in preparation of what’s to come.

Never thought I get this big.

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I just watched a cow in the pasture trying to get up from a rest, with a ‘one, two, three…heave, ho…’ sort of technique and I could relate to her.

I watched another one attempt to lay down, and I nodded my head in solidarity.

It’s weird. And most of the time it’s not so pretty. Just last week I had a mental breakdown about moving the board games from one closet to another.

Seriously.

And my poor husband can’t find a thing in the kitchen because, according to him, some crazy pregnant lady keeps rearranging things.

I don’t believe him. I have no recollection of such acts. I tell him maybe it’s him who’s going crazy.

He doubts that theory very much.  

I don’t know who’s rearranging the kitchen, but I do know I have the strongest urge to vacuum right now. And last week I felt just as urgent about capturing a few photos of what the two of us look like in this phase of ‘pre-parenthood.’

So I forced my little sister to take some, right after I finished the donut she brought me from town. The poor thing didn’t know what was coming, but she did a great job (and she’s not even the sister of mine who’s an actual photographer).

Anyway, in a couple weeks (or tomorrow or the next day) we will be three.

But here we are, still just the two of us (sort of) and counting down the days.

I don’t think my husband has ever taken a better photo, he’s just sort of radiating, a smile as big as his wife’s belly.

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For a long time there were only your footprints & laughter in our dreams & even from such small things, we knew we could not wait to love you forever.
-Brian Andreas-Storypeople